DVD Review: The Astronaut Farmer
Release Date: July 10, 2007
Distributor: Warner Home Video
· Michael Polish
· Billy Bob Thornton
· Virginia Madsen
· Max Thierot
· Bruce Dern
· J.K. Simmons
· Jon Gries
· IMDb: The Astronaut Farmer
· Jim Pappas' Movie Review
by R.J. Carter
Published: July 10, 2007
Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) has a dream. He wants to fly into space. Unlike most men who have this dream, he has an Atlas rocket he's assembled in his barn, with the help of his space-savvy son and supportive wife and daughters. All he's missing is the fuel. And money.
Charles' wife Audie (Virginia Madsen) is behind her husband's dream one hundred percent, despite the ridicule it draws from the neighbors in their tumbleweed Texas town. Son Shepard (Max Thierot is a gifted engineering sort, and helps out with the math and design, while younger daughters Stanley and Sunshine (played by Polish brothers daughters Jasper Polish and Logan Polish) provide fuel for his dreams with the unswerving faith that only comes from little girls for their daddies.
But finances may keep Farmer grounded. His in debt up to his ears with the bank that his friendly loan officer can no longer ignore. When he delivers a foreclosure notice, Farmer responds with a brick through the bank window, setting off a chain reaction that shows the viewers the Mayberry-like simplicity with which the town operates. The sheriff forces Farmer to apologize, and then has him off to see the school nurse for an evaluation.
Where Farmer really comes into trouble, however, is when he tries to purchase the requisite fuel to get his rocket off the ground. This catches the attention of the FBI, who come to investigate with less than a subtle approach. Then there's the FAA committee, headed up by Mr. Jacobson (J.K. Simmons), to get past. Farmer hopes to get some support from his visiting NASA friend, Colonel Masterson (Bruce Willis), when he comes to inspect the rocket, but even he ultimately tells Farmer that he has no chance of getting permission for a launch -- it would embarrass NASA to have an individual launch with no budget while they're spending billions.
No Chance. Farmer gives Masterson a tour of his rocket.
(L-R: Thornton, Willis)
Frustrated and pushed beyond limits when Audie learns how deeply in debt the family is, Farmer slips out to the barn on his own, determined to launch. The result is a catastophe that nearly kills him and his family's dream.
But the film is one of those happy ending varieties that just takes a few unhappy ways to arrive. The family's financial worries are wiped out when Audie's father (Bruce Dern) passes away and leaves behind some trust funds. But Audie makes the decision that the dream is too important to let die, and gives the money over to Charles to rebuild. By the tale's end, The Dreamer will launch and carry audiences with it into the realm of We Can Achieve Our Dreams Land.
There are quite a few nice bits of cinematography in this film. The passage of time through changing seasons, and the launches themselves, are scenes that came across well. On the other hand, there are a few minor bits of plot that persist on being annoyances. Like how Farmer rents a carnival ride for $500 a week, and then hangs onto it until the end of the film. Or how he loses his wedding ring building the first rocket, only to end up finding it on the second rocket with no explanation of how it got there.
Who's That Napoleon Kid? Mark Polish and Jon Gries appear
as FBI Agents Mathis and Killbourne in the Warner Brothers film,
"The Astronaut Farmer".
All told, however, "The Astronaut Farmer" is worth watching not for the technicals of the story, but for the characters which inhabit it, from the leads on down to the folks who only have bit parts as store clerks, fast food workers, and law enforcement. It's a family film, with positive messages (albeit heavily covered with possibly obsessive behavior) that may inspire viewers to reach for their own stars.
This single-disc release includes both the widescreen and full screen releases on a double-sided disc. The bonus features include a self-explantory blooper reel (almost nine minutes), and a nearly three minute interview with NASA astronaut David Scott (Gemini and Apollo missions) about his advice for Charles Farmer and his vision for the future of space exploration.
But the main attraction in the bonus features is the twenty-eight minute documentary, "How to Build a Rocket: The Making of 'The Astronaut Farmer'". Here, director Michael Polish and his co-writer brother Mark Polish talk about the themes of the film and how the created the story. Actors Jon Gries and Tim Blake Nelson offer their thoughts on the space race of the sixties and the pioneering spirit. Scene cuts are introduced with historic quotes from American astronauts, and you get to hear quite a bit of commentary from Thornton, Madsen, Dern and Thierot about working on the project and with each other. The costumers, set designers, and special effects crews are also given their due in this comprehensive featurette.
Audio for the feature presentation is in English 5.1, with optional subtitling in English, French or Spanish.